Cinema has a certain way of evoking real feelings in the audience. It could be through a character’s deconstruction brought upon by a fantastic performance, or it can be through a single frame. Whatever the case, behind the camera there’s someone trying to make you feel something. Sometimes, we live through films that feel unique, unbearable, and unrepeatable.
There was a collective uproar when Christian Tafdrup’s Speak No Evil was released. Reactions varied. People loved it, hated it, and mostly just questioned it. It awoke something in certain audiences that was almost irrepressible, which makes sense considering it’s a portrayal of absolute fear. But it’s not the fear we are used to when referring to horror; this is much more mundane, almost normal.
We’ve All Been There
In Speak No Evil, a couple are on vacation in Europe with their daughter. Their trip appears to be full of joy, and almost innocent. The husband and wife have some glitches in how they communicate, but they’re acceptable for the sake of joy and leisure.
Bjørn and Louise meet Patrick and Karin, who also have a child traveling with them. Abel was born without a tongue, but this doesn’t stop the couple’s daughter from playing with him. The families hit it off. This is a newborn friendship, one sparked from pleasure, admiration, and chemistry.
Patrick and Karin invite Bjørn and Louise to spend a few days with them at their home. The naive couple hesitates and ultimately accepts the invitation. Unlike the usual ‘cabin the woods’ type horror film, the audience doesn’t yell at the screen, signaling them, because there’s nothing dangerous about the visit. Sure, their behavior is very, very unsettling, but dangerous? Nah. What’s the worst that could happen?
And the worst happens. We won’t reveal much about it, but Speak No Evil is a horrible story about the dangers of trust in modern times. It’s fascinatingly simple. A couple accepts to have a relationship with a friendly family, and they become victims of something so dark, reasons don’t even apply.
However, the film’s formula is sober enough to stay within the walls of drama and realism. Bjørn and Louise aren’t part of a sick game that starts right away. This isn’t Funny Games. They willingly go, they willingly stay. They accept being part of something cryptic that doesn’t show its true face until the end. However, it isn’t too late. It’s what keeps us hooked in shock, as they don’t open their eyes and see.
But see what exactly? We, the audience, know they’re in a horror film because of a poster and possibly a trailer. But the director insists on keeping us grounded and avoiding a suspension of disbelief with the normal clichés of horror. Speak No Evil isn’t so much a horror film, but a human story with a descent into the horrific side of humanity.
Spoiler alert! Stop reading if you want to go blind into Speak No Evil
Nihilism at its Best
Evil doesn’t explain itself in Speak No Evil. The hint is simple: monsters commit monstrous acts because their victims let them do it. In shock, and awaiting certain death, the ideal pillars of society sit and expect nothing but violence. They die, and their flesh meekly mixes in a symphony of blood and trauma that’s visually unforgettable.
Speak No Evil holds no restraints for the audience because it portrays a message of absolute nihilism. A version of pure evil that sits beside you in a bus, restaurant or plane. Not only in the film’s universe, but in absolute reality. We all have the capacity of being beasts, but most of us simply decide not to be.
Sometimes, you think about rewatching films. You want to explore more and more about what you just saw and take a deeper dive into an approach that you liked. Speak No Evil is a horror masterpiece, but we can guarantee you won’t run at the chance of watching it again. It will play itself on your mind for days, weeks and even months. A particular scene will have you grasping at something to keep you down while you relive the experience of meeting monsters. Real ones.
You can stream Speak No Evil on Shudder.